BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Shane O’Neill plays professional soccer for the Colorado Rapids. His brother, Darrah O’Neill, plays college football for the University of Colorado. The O’Neill boys are first generation Americans. Their parents emigrated from Ireland and the family is Irish — to the core.
Twenty years ago Colm O’Neill and his wife Christine made the journey from the “Old Country” to new, and they brought a little piece of Ireland with them. They opened a pub in Boulder.
“We’ve been open 40 years this September,” Colm said of his restaurant Conor O’Neill’s. “Business has been good and we’re very happy with how things are going.”
“Colm came to visit here one weekend and he said, ‘Oh, we need to go to Boulder, it’s beautiful.’ And he came home and we came one weekend and we loved it,” Christine said. “We decided it would be a great place to rear six kids.”
Six Irish-American kids – Darrah, Shane, Grace, Kate, Enda and Mark – the O’Neill brood.
“An anonymous letter came in the mailbox and it said, ‘We had such a nice, quiet neighborhood until your kids started playing out in back,” Colm said. “And I still have that letter.”
“The main culprit was Dad because he was making more noise than the kids,” Christine said.
Colm was an accomplished Gaelic football player in Ireland.
“The most popular sport in Ireland would be Gaelic football, Irish football,” he said.
Christine grew up playing basketball. Their children play a little bit of everything.
“I love basketball, I played basketball in college. So I encouraged basketball and I coached them when they were younger at the rec center, so it just kind of started with that,” Christine said. “Then Colm coached them in soccer when they were very young and it just continued.”
The kids also loved baseball.
Darrah, 21, and Shane, 19, played basketball together at Fairview High School. The feisty O’Neills carried Fairview to the state championship game in 2009.
“Shane was kind of; he was the enforcer on the team. Our first possession of every game he’d come out and give somebody an elbow to the chest. And right then I knew my job would be easier because he’d always be defending the other team’s best player,” Darrah said.
The boys also played soccer. Shane signed with the Colorado Rapids last year. He’s now a member of the U.S. Under-20 team.
“Even playing basketball I knew soccer was my main focus and my junior year of high school was when I really kind of started to focus on that and joined the Rapids Academy,” Shane said. “They helped me a lot with my development and it just took off from there.”
Darrah is the starting punter at CU, even though he really never punted a football until he got to college.
“It wasn’t pretty at first, I’ll be the first one to tell you that. But then I got in touch with a friend who knew a little bit about kicking and punting, his name is Matt Thompson. He just kind of came out and worked with me and taught me a few things and I would l just go out essentially every day and just punt the ball,” Darrah said.
It’s a family trait. All the O’Neill kids are talented — many talents. Shane is the family barber for his younger siblings.
“I’m just a good hair stylist,” Shane said, laughing.
They’re also intensely competitive.
“We have a soccer goal in the backyard and there will always be a game, but of course the big fellas always beat the small fellas and the small fellas get mad and there’ll be a big argy-bargy,” Colm said.
Argy-bargy is Irish slang for argument.
The O’Neills want the kids to stay true to their Irish roots. The family spends two months every summer back in Ireland.
Colm said even though his children are excellent athletes, school still comes first.
“You definitely need good grades. We’ve always emphasized … focus on the school, and then let the sport take care of itself,” he said.